top of page

Disapprobation of governmental inaction cannot be branded as an attempt to promote hatred: SC

The disapprobation of governmental inaction cannot be branded as an attempt to promote hatred between different communities. Free speech of the citizens of this country cannot be stifled by implicating them in criminal cases unless such speech has the tendency to affect public order. (Para 15)

Patricia Mukhim v. State of Meghalaya & Ors.

Criminal Appeal No. 141 of 2021 (@ SLP (Crl.) No. 103 of 2021)

25th March 2021

The Divisional Bench of Hon'ble Supreme Court consisting of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice S. Ravindra Bhat allowed the appeal filed against the rejection of the Appellant's application under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. And set aside the judgment of the High Court by quashing the FIR PS Case No. 72 (7) 2020 dated 06.07.2020 registered under Section 153 A, 500 and 500 (1) © of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 in Laban Police Station.

On 04.07.2020, a press release was issued by the Assistant Inspector General of Police describing the details of a crime that took place a day prior on which tribal people badly beat up some non-tribals of Meghalaya, and this got registered under Section 336/307/506/34 IPC in Laban Police Station. On the same day after the press release, Appellant uploaded a post on Facebook. He asked several questions from the government and criticized them and requested them to act against those who breached communal peace and harmony. On 06.07.2020, FIR was registered against the Appellant under Section 41 A CrPC based on the complaint filed by the Headman and the Secretary and SP that the statement made by the Appellant on Facebook might instigate communal tension and conflicts between different communities along with the charges of defamation. The Appellant filed Criminal Petition No. 9 of 2020 in the High Court for quashing the FIR., which was later dismissed in an order dated 10.11.2020, and held that Facebook post sought to pose feelings of enmity and hatred between two communities. That’s why the Appellant is liable for an offense under Section 153 A IPC.

Ms. Vrinda Grover, Learned counsel from the Appellant side, contended that (i) the offenses under Section 153 A IPC have not been made out, and the FIR registered deserves to be quashed (ii) Facebook post should be read in its entirety, the brutal attack on non-tribals was highlighted calling for suitable action against the culprits and hence, appellant was of no intention to promote any feeling of enmity or hatred between two communities (iii) the post uploaded by the appellant should be judged from a perspective of a reasonable man and hence submitted that it is merely an exercise of a right guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India.

Mr. Avijit Mani Tripathi, Learned counsel from the State of Meghalaya, argued that (i) Appellant is a renowned journalist and is expected to be more responsible when making public comments and has the tendency to provoke communal disharmony (ii) the High Court was right in dismissing the application filed under Section 482 CrPC (iii) Freedom of speech and expression is not absolute and hence can impose certain restrictions, as per the current situation, Appellant has exceeded its limit while promoting enmity between different groups and that’s why should be held liable under Section 153 A and 505 (1) ©.

After hearing the contentions of the parties, the court has referred all the statutes quoted by the counsels, including Section 153 A, Section 505, and along with this cited various judgments, Bilal Ahmed Kaloo v. the State of AP, Ramesh v. Union of India, PravasaiBhalaiSangathan v. Union of India & Ors., Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott applying all the tests and principles laid down in the mentioned judgments the court has framed a question that:

Whether the Facebook Postdated 04.07.2020 was intentionally made for promoting class/community hatred and has the tendency to provoke enmity between two communities? (Para 13)

To reach a conclusion, the Court closely scrutinized the Facebook post that:

the agony of the Appellant was directed against the apathy shown by the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, the Director General of Police and the DorbarShnong of the area in not taking any action against the culprits who attacked the non-tribals youngsters. The Appellant referred to the attacks on non-tribals in 1979. At the most, the Facebook post can be understood to highlight the discrimination against non-tribals in the State of Meghalaya. However, the Appellant made it clear that criminal elements have no community and immediate action has to be taken against persons who had indulged in the brutal attack on non-tribal youngsters playing basketball. The Facebook post read in its entirety pleads for equality of non-tribals in the State of Meghalaya. In our understanding, there was no intention on the part of the Appellant to promote class/community hatred. As there is no attempt made by the Appellant to incite people belonging to a community to indulge in any violence, the basic ingredients of the offence under Sections 153 A and 505 (1) (c) have not been made out. Where allegations made in the FIR or the complaint, even if they are taken on their face value and accepted in their entirety do not prima facie constitute any offence or make out a case against the accused, the FIR is liable to be quashed. (Para 13)

Concluding, the court held:

Therefore, for the foregoing reason, the appeal succeeds and is accordingly allowed. The impugned judgment of the High Court is set aside.

Swadheen Singh